Providing COVID-compliant catering in the workplace

With employees slowly starting to return to the workplace, it’s important to ensure social distancing measures are still kept in place and health and safety measures are kept for workplace catering.

In this article, I discuss the best ways to ensure COVID-19 compliant catering to employees when they are back on site. From Covid testing to hygiene regulations, there is a lot to get used to in order for employees and customers to keep themselves safe.

COVID compliant cateringPutting customers first

Customers were obviously concerned about catering options as COVID restrictions were put in place and while many businesses were able to work from home. There were, of course, some which continued to operate from their usual base during lockdown, which meant catering options still needed to be provided for staff and be compliant.

Express Vending continued to offer these solutions during lockdown to businesses that needed them. During a time when accurate and specific information was sometimes hard to find, we knew timing was of the essence, when it came to reassuring our customers. We tried to make all our communications relevant, factual and punctual.

We made it clear from the start that our on-site visits would be slightly different, but the focus of our communications was positive as any changes were to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our customers and our staff.

We openly communicated that we would always be working within the guidelines set out by Government and local authorities and sent out relevant COVID-19 marketing and pre-delivery inspection installation information before our team visited sites.

Effective controls

It’s essential to prepare staff for offsite visits during changing circumstances and regulations. Prioritising critical control points is key to eliminating hazards or reducing them to an acceptable level.

A big focus for managers should be communicating the new post-COVID risk assessments and controls effectively and checking all measures are being complied with across the business.

This can be achieved through additional training on risk awareness specific to the controls for COVID-19 front-line working and around the use and wearing of additional PPE, such as masks and gloves, where they are required.

In many ways, challenging situations mean risk assessments are sometimes even better, and further reduce the chances of issues later down the line.

One of our greatest successes for risk assessment was empowering our staff to carry out dynamic assessments at each location visited and supporting them to walk away if they did not feel the area had the correct restrictions in place.

Having the power to ask for immediate change, particularly around social distancing, or to walk away did a lot for the wellbeing and engagement of our front-line staff.

Enhanced and long-term catering solutions

While COVID-19 restrictions continue to be in place Micro Markets and workplace catering has been adapted to ensure alternative options can be offered with improved health and safety features.

For example, Express Vending installed a HUB at Collins’ Aerospace, which happened as COVID-19 restrictions were starting to take place. Collins Aerospace had temporarily stopped its shift patterns during COVID-19 and put its night shift workers on a day shift, so the HUB was a much-needed solution in providing staff with sustenance during the pandemic and beyond.

At Express Vending, we made sure we took the steps to ensure all the necessary measures and precautions were in place. As a starting point, or new HUBs came with hand sanitising stations for both entry and exit points and put down two-metre stickers to make the area COVID-19 compliant for your catering.

Additional signage and guidance on distancing and handwashing was also provided, along with suggested control over numbers in the specific area.

Preparing for more contact-free solutions

Businesses have also started to upgrade catering solutions to be COVID-compliant. For example, one of the priorities for companies is ensuring as many touch points are removed from sites as possible. So, there is now the option of coffee machines, which use new Distance Selection technology to reduce these touch points across sites.

At Express Vending, we also added a HUB Beacon App, to our customer catering options, which makes scanning and transactions completely contact-free. There are other good technology features to consider enhancing health and safety. If food is out of date Micro Market fridges now automatically lock, so you do not have the risk of staff eating out of date food.

When looking at the future of the workplace, I believe some of the changes made due to COVID-19 restrictions may be more long-term. The impact on the UK workplace has made most businesses more aware of social distancing measures and the need for pre-packaged food and drink for staff, so they know anything they buy will not be contaminated.

The no-social contact rule is also driving more customers towards self-checkout and self-service options, so businesses will have no choice but to become more comfortable and prepared for this.

It’s thought Micro Markets might extend beyond their usual workplace environments too and competing in the public-facing, convenience retail space is the next natural step for this industry as restrictions continue.

By Paul Hearne, executive director, Express Vending